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Alaska’s Natural Remedies

In many parts of the world herbs are the only option for all types of health problems. In the United States we are very fortunate to have fantastic doctors as well as a variety of medical options available to us.

Alaska, in her goodness, also provides a plethora of natural resources. Gentle remedies which are suitable for home treatment of common complaints as well as accessible cures while out hiking, back-packing, fishing, hunting or camping.

This article covers a little about what is easily available, where you can find these plants, and how to use them.

Birch
As a remedy: You can drink the sap as a refreshing tonic. Gargle the sap for mouth sores, ad buds and leaves to skin salves for ringworm. Bark decoctions are used internally for fevers and diarrhea and externally for skin afflictions. Leaf infusions are said to help ith urinary problems and difficulty with kidney stones.

Found: from Kodiak to the Brooks Range.

Proper Name: Betula spp. Birch family (Betulaceae)

Blueberry
As a remedy: This fruit is high in iron and mineral salts. You can gargle with the juice to sooth a sore throat. Use the leaves (before the berries are ready to be picked) in tea to help stabalize blood sugar. If you use an infusion of the antiseptic leaves you can help treat urinary tract disorders.

Found: throughout Alaska except in the extream North.

Background: Caccinium spp Heath Family (Ericaceae) These berries are also known as Mother’s Day flowers, dyberries and wineberries.

Cranberry (Highbush)
As a remedy: Use the bark decoctions externally as Alaskan Natives do for infected cuts. You can sip bark decoctions to relieve stomach and menstrual pain from cramping. Highbush cranberries are also called crampbark. Other names include mooseberry, highbush berry, squashberry and sheepberry.

Found: the Peninsula and Southeast up through the arctic.

Background: Viburnum edule, Honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae) The name as derived from the Latin viburnum means “wayfaring tree” while edule means “edible.”

Dandelion
As a remedy: Herbalists recommend root decoctions and tintures to lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, and as a diuretic for water retention. Add dandelion flowers or floral essence to your bath to relieve muscular tension.

Found: just about everywhere in Alaska, and certainly all over my lawn.

Background: Taraxacum spp, Aster family (Asteraceae) The name means “remedy of disorder.” The dandelion is also called a lion’s tootch, a priest’s crown, wild endive and other names. Roots are renowned as skin and liver tonics.

Devil’s Club
As a remedy: Especially useful in Alaska is the root; when pounded hot and applied as a poultice it helps with festering wounds and insect bites. You can use Devil’s club as a tonic tea like the Indians from Southeast Alaska. They use the tea to prevent cancer. These teas are said to help with blood sugar levels in borderline diabetics.

Found: the Peninsula and Southeast to South-central Alaska.

Caution: Do not use internally if you are a diabetic that has to inject insulin.

Background: Echinopanaz horridum, Ginseng family (Araliaceae) The first part of it’s name, echino, comes from the Greek term for a hedgehog or a sea urchin, while panaz refers to ginseng which means “all healing” or “panacea.”

Fireweed
As a remedy: This is another good source of tea for upset stomach. Use the tea to relieve constipation. The roots may be used in a poultice to draw infection out of wounds. The herb can be boiled to help with astma and coughs.

The floral essence may be used in aromatherapy to help people that are recovering from shock or some deeply traumatic experience.

The fireweed shoots are high in vitamin A and C. You can find fireweed honey at the fairs and in many of the local tourist shops it is wonderful and relaxing.

Found: all over Alaska.

Background: Epilobium angustifolium, Evening primrose family (Onagraceae) the name means “upon a pod.” It is also known as the willow herb, blooming Sally and wild asparagus.

Plantain
As a remedy: Plantain is used to draw out infection and shards of glass. In order to use them boil them in water and apply the fresh leaf poultice to the wound every two hours. It is important to use it fresh since plantain dries very poorly. You can also process it into a salve or tincture.

The seeds are used as a wilderness laxative. You can use it in a herbal bath for skin rashes and put the leaves in your shoes before you go hiking to prevent blisters.

Found: Southeast Alaska to the Brooks Range.

Background: Plantago major Plantain family (Plantaginaceae) Because Plantain showed up wherever Caucasian explorers had gone it gained the nickname “white man’s foot” and “Englishman’s footstep.”

Salmonberry
As a remedy: You can use leaf infusions and bark and root decotions all as herbal treatments for diarrhea. If you have an upset stomach you may wish to try the berries and leaves in a tea. In addition to drinking the leaves in a tea you can use them for oily skin.

Caution: Use only fresh leaves or fully dried ones — avoid using wilted leaves as they are mildly toxic.

Background: Rubus spectabilis, Rose family (Rosaceae) Rubus means “bramble” which these berries are definately surrounded by and spectabilis translates as “exceptionally showy.” The berries I picked in Kodiak were large and bright, relatively easy to pluck.

Willow
As a remedy: Willow contains salicin which is an aspirin substitute. For more information on painkillers please see our related article. You can use willow to healp with headachs and muscle pain by chewing on willow bark. Use the bark boiled in water as a restorative drink. Chew willow leaves and put the pulpy wad on insect bites to reduce irritation.

Willow is wonderful in footbaths for sore and achy feet.

Found: all over Alaska.

Background: Salix spp., Willow family (Salicaceae) Willow is also known as pussy willow, surach and chura.

References:
The Complete Medicinal Herbal: A Practical Guide to the Healing Properties of Herbs, with More Than 250 Remedies for Common Ailments pages 118-119

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